Enrico Gasparotto on Sunday won a first classic for Italy since 2008, crossing the line first in a furious sprint for the finish in the Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands.
The 30-year-old Astana rider beat Belgium’s Jelle Vanendert and Peter Sagan of Slovakia in the final straight, chasing Spain’s Oscar Freire, who broke away 6km from the finish and was only caught in the final 50m.
Nine riders had previously broken away from the main peloton at the 39km mark of the 256.5km course from Maastricht to Valkenburg and put up to 13 minutes and 20 seconds between themselves and the pack.
The BMC and Katusha teams led the chase, clawing back the deficit until Freire’s breakaway.
Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert, who has won the two previous editions of the race, tried to keep with the pace, but faded in the last 100m. The winner of the last Tour de France, Australia’s Cadel Evans, abandoned the race after the second ascent at Cauberg, 75km from the finish.
The win for Gasparotto, who came third in the race two years ago, is his first major classic victory. He was a stage winner in the Giro in 2007 and also won the Italian championships in 2005.
“I can hardly believe it. It’s a great victory and I’m lost for words. In the sprint I saw that Peter [Sagan] was pulling ahead and I made an effort to get behind him,” a delighted Gasparotto said afterwards. “I was thinking of the finish two years ago and the mistake I made by slowing up in the last 20m. I cycled with my head and got an incredible win.”
Italy selector Paolo Bettini hailed the victory, which was the country’s first in a one-day classic since Damiano Cunego in the Tour of Lombardy four years ago.
“Enrico won in brilliant fashion and beat some top class cyclists. Italy has not won a classic since 2008. Another good sign is the presence of several other Italians at the top of the field. It’s a great day for Italian cycling,” Bettini said.